CATLab Blog Westmont Blazes a Trail in Education

By Zak Landrum; Adapted from 2022 CATLab Magazine

Know Your Why: Purpose First

At some point in the last decade, navigating Westmont's technological future required a choice. We could bet on pre-made products with companies claiming expertise, or we could bet on our own team of builders, relying on platforms meant to empower us to design our own future. A combination of disposition and lived experience pushed Westmont’s IT team to decide that if we could build solutions to our business problems, it would inherently be better than buying solutions to our business problems. We would rather sail on a ship we built ourselves.

Not every school makes this choice. It’s risky for many reasons. Technologists often take the cleaner path of investing in a company that can “deliver a solution” for a high, fixed cost, rather than trust their own people to build a solution. What if the people who built the system leave? How can we go with something that’s unproven?

This choice to build better solutions grew out of the five planks of Westmont’s mission statement: Westmont is residential, liberal arts, global, undergraduate, and Christian. If the mission makes the culture, the culture makes the choice.

When we made that bet on our future, it wasn’t a wild shot in the dark. We knew Westmont’s core values provide us with a “why” that unites us in our purpose. We’re not just making our technical system more efficient; the systems we build feed directly into the values of our culture. We practice humility and hope alongside the undergraduate students who are acutely aware of their place in the future of this college. We’re orienting ourselves to have a more global mindset as we consider the impact what we have learned can have on higher education institutions around the world. And most importantly, we designed a program carried by our relationships with one another.

Know the Who: Find Your People

Kathy Lueckeman was the first person to slow down enough to teach me the “why” of Salesforce. One day in the Montecito Room of Westmont's Voskuyl Library, she stood like a professor in front of a whiteboard and taught me how to think about Salesforce. While the knowledge transfer was deeply needed and appreciated, her spirit of generosity made the most significant impression.

Since then, she has founded Education Trailblazers, where she furthers her mission of sharing knowledge and improving the higher education community.  Westmont chose to work with her and her new nonprofit to help build the student information system that would take us into the future.

If your institutional bet is on building your own ship, the most important decision you can make is who will put the planks together. Staff from other education institutions frequently ask me about “how to get started” with Salesforce or with a program like CATLab. I lead with mindset and mission. If you don’t have the mindset to learn voraciously, try new things, commit to the community you’re in, and build something that lasts, our approach is probably not for you.

Know the How: Our Technology Pathway

For fifteen years, Westmont’s CIO, Reed Sheard, had been on a mission to get Westmont’s data into a more modern enterprise platform. His journey began in 2009, when he reached for a CRM solution to help him manage a major fundraising campaign.

Salesforce, his chosen CRM, has since become the leading customer relationship platform in the world, and now has a giant research and development budget. It knows technology is constantly adapting, so it keeps absorbing market leaders in its quest to become the tool the world uses to get its work done.

One department at a time, Westmont has moved our departments’ data into Salesforce. The first major move was admissions in 2014. The version one advancement project was completed in 2017. The merge of those systems happened over the next four years. Then came an events solution, a growing student program, and increasing institutional buy-in.

In early 2022, we started working with Kathy on the “heart transplant”––the student information system. Kathy had been working on this architecture for a decade. Westmont was finally ready to switch out the central system. We’re hard at work actualizing that new reality.

Where Purpose, People, and Pathway Meet

A convergence of purpose, people, and pathway––three pillars of digital transformation––is rare. Cultivating readiness takes years of preparation and requires many layers of health to succeed. The more I talk with people who want to start a CATLab at their school or begin the transformational projects that have become the norm at Westmont, the more grateful I’ve become for the unique environment we have here on our slice of coast in California. In a community committed to lifelong learning, residential life, local impact, and hopeful humility, our institutional environment is primed for continuous, faithful transformation.